The recipe for postseason success in the NBA is pretty straightforward: Start with a couple stars who can consistently deliver the goods in crunch time. Mix in some role players willing to defend and do the dirty work. Finally, add good health, good fortune, and a healthy dash of experience and you’ve got yourself a team capable of bringing home a title.
Read over that recipe one more time, Rockets fans. Let me guess. It’s not exactly lifting your spirits, is it?
Well, let’s start with the good news then. The Rockets definitely have role players. Do they ever. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better, harder-working group anywhere in the NBA. They’re a huge reason why the Rockets rolled to 55 regular season wins, and they proved their worth yet again Wednesday night during Houston’s 93-75 dismantling of the Clippers.
Now the bad news: Once Yao Ming went down with his season-ending injury, the Rockets’ two star system was cut in half. Good health? Rafer Alston is out for at least the first two games of the playoffs with a strained hamstring, and Shane Battier, Bobby Jackson, Carl Landry and Tracy McGrady aren’t exactly 100 percent, either. Experience? All you need to know is that the Rockets are heavily relying on three rookies to make significant contributions during this playoff run. Hey, there’s a reason Houston became the team everyone not-so-secretly wanted to play this postseason.
And yet, you can’t overlook the fact this club has spent the last few months laughing in the face of NBA convention. As head coach Rick Adelman says, “Whether people expect us to win or not [in the first round], I don’t think anybody expected us to win 22 in a row. So we’re just gonna do our job and see what happens.”
Then there’s Battier, who has this word of warning for anyone thinking they’ve been blessed with the ideal first round opponent: “I never hope for a match-up. I learned in Memphis about the playoffs. My first year there, we were 3-1 against the Spurs [during the regular season], and they swept us. The next year, we were 3-1 against the Suns in the regular season, and we got swept. Then the year after that we were 2-2 against Dallas and got swept. And every year I thought: This is the match-up that we want. So I learned a long time ago, don’t hope for match-ups.”
For coaches and players, Battier’s lesson means you’d better be careful what you wish for. But for fans, especially those who cheer on the Rockets, it’s more a message of hope. There is no formula which guarantees playoff success. If there were, the Giants would never beat New England and Tiger Woods would never finish second to Trevor Immelman. It’s what makes sports worth watching: Nothing is ever guaranteed.
So keep the faith and keep on dreaming, Rockets fans. The standard ingredients might not be in place, but perhaps there’s room for a new spin on that tried-and-true recipe. Might as well throw some hope into the pot, step back, watch it simmer, and see what happens.
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The results might be delicious. They might even be disastrous. But either way, it will be a helluva lot of fun to watch.
The playoffs are here. Finally.
-- Jason Friedman